Alumni Events

Autumn 2018 Alumni Short Course

£30 (fund-raiser)




Dr Fiona Bowie

Explorations in Ontological Anthropology:

Exploring Place, Presence and Power


Wednesday 31 Oct (18.30 - 20.30 GMT) 2018,

Wednesday 7 November (18.30 - 20.30 GMT) 2018,

Wednesday 14 November(18.30 - 20.30 GMT) 2018


The 'ontological turn' in anthropology claimed to open the discipline to non-Western ways of seeing and to taboo areas of study within Western contexts. In the end it promised much but has delivered little. Professional nervousness, powerful gatekeepers in academic employment and publishing, and self-censorship, have conspired to limit the impact of alternative ways of seeing and understanding the world within academia.

In these three talks I will attempt to push the boundaries by allowing ordinary and extraordinary views of the world to inform one another. To do so I start with the recognition that any definition of the boundary between what is ordinary/extraordinary is contextual, fluid and involves semantics rather than any essential properties.

WEEK ONE: A Transpersonal Anthropology: Locating the Boundaries

WEEK TWO: The Power of Place

WEEK THREE: Inclined Planes - Traversing the Different Forms of Space and Being



Wednesday 31 Oct 2018:

A Transpersonal Anthropology: Locating the Boundaries

In this first talk I discuss the implications of an anthropology that takes seriously different perspectives on ontology - in the sense of what is 'real' - both theoretically and methodologically. As a comparative discipline, anthropology is well placed to explore different understandings of the world and to develop transpersonal, dialogical models that incorporate both cultural difference and universal experiences of 'reality', or attempts to see the world as it is.


Wednesday 7 Nov 2018:

The Power of Place

The second talk focuses on the landscape as our physical home and as a source of power. Particular features of the landscape have long been recognised as sacred, or powerful. Other sites become sacred through ritual, magic or particular events or intentions. I will explore some of the ways in which the landscape presents itself as powerful and the various sources of this power, along with academic debates as to the nature of landscape, space, place and power. For many people the unseen inhabitants of a place, whether in the form of temporary visitations of angelic or sacred beings, or more permanent but usually invisible inhabitants such as fairies or spirits, are included in the experience of power and place.


Wednesday 14 Nov 2018:

Inclined Planes - Traversing the Different Forms of Space and Being

The third talk looks at notions of different planes of being, how they are experienced, traversed, described and understood. We all inhabit different realms in dreams and in other altered states of consciousness. Are these purely personal locations or can they be shared? How do culturally understood and presented forms of place and being, such as Heaven or Hell, or a state of Nirvana, for example, travel across cultures and how are they affected by personal experience? In this talk I will incorporate data from near death and shamanic experiences, mediumship and channelling, to try to get some sense of the geographies of this world and its connections to ostensible planes of being beyond our everyday vision and embodied cognition.


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Fiona Bowie

Fiona Bowie is currently a Visiting Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at King's College London, and a member of Wolfson College Oxford. Her DPhil (Oxford) was on the relationship between Christian missionaries and the Bangwa people of South West Cameroon. Among Fiona's publication is the popular textbook The Anthropoly of Religion (Blackwell), which is about to go into its third edition.